Many associations have spent the pandemic working remotely. Now, return-to-office plans typically include a hybrid model, where staff are sometimes in the office and sometimes remote. Experts offer advice on transitioning to this blended model.
With staff having enjoyed working remotely during the pandemic, many associations are planning a hybrid work environment when they return this fall—allowing people to work remotely a few days a week. While making the switch sounds easy on paper, experts caution the transition requires some planning, including culture shifts.
“We think that the culture part is the most important thing out of all of it,” said Victor Cora Nazario, chief operating officer at SOAR Community Network, LLC. Nazario, who spends time helping offices with culture and staffing, says the upcoming transition to hybrid differs from the 2020 transition to remote.
“Last year, everyone was in the same boat,” Nazario said. “We had to do it.”
With hybrid being an organizational choice, managers who prefer being in the office may find it difficult to adjust. “Now that we’re coming back, the managers that like to see the people in the office are saying [remote] doesn’t work,” he said.
To reduce some of this friction, Nazario said it’s important to match the hybrid choice to your organizational mission. “You have to start with purpose mapping,” Nazario said.
The best way to do that is to get staff input aligning mission with the new work model. “We strongly believe the way of doing that is getting everybody together that is involved in doing the work, deciding on those objectives, and co-creating ways in which to achieve those objectives,” Nazario said. “If I’m the manager of 20 people, and I believe this work can only be done if you’re in the office, but everybody on my team doesn’t think that that’s true, then I have to revisit that.”
Specifics Helpful to Hybrid
While the culture is crucial for anything to work, there are some specific issues to address when switching to a hybrid office. Richard R. Smith, Ph.D., a professor at the John Hopkins Carey School of Business, and Nazario offered the following suggestions.
Enable the necessary technology. “Perhaps it is obvious but enabling offices with facilities that allow for seamless connections between in-person team members and those who are remote is a critical first step to making hybrid work,” Smith said. “If meeting spaces are not conducive for hybrid meetings, then organizations will likely revert back to everyone coming to the office for meetings—or taking up the rule that all meetings are done individually (e.g., Zoom from your desk) to create an equal participation level.”
Be inclusive. It’s important to make sure people at home and those in the office are included. “It’s easy to talk to the person who is right next to me,” Nazario said. “It’s easy to crack a joke with them. But we have to be aware that Linda is online; William is online as well.”
Smith notes that inclusive leadership will bring staff together. “When in large meetings—either remote or hybrid—the group dynamics may allow some people to dominate and others to feel left out,” Smith said. “Inclusive leaders will work to ensure that everyone has a voice and is valued. Inclusive leaders will also check-in with others and work to make sure that people feel connected with leadership.”
Train leaders. Being inclusive in a hybrid environment may not be every manager’s natural style, so training is needed. “We definitely think you should give your leaders some lead time to learn,” Nazario said. “This is new. What was my style before? Was I leading the kind of work that needed constant supervision? So, how do I lead that work now?” The training has to help leaders with these kinds of questions.
Create more social engagement. “As people begin to head back into the office, many will sit at their desk all day and wonder why they made the trip when they could have been working from home,” Smith said. “To capture the benefit of hybrid working, arrange and encourage social interactions on the days that people are in the office—and potentially encourage common in-person office days.” Social interactions could include coffee breaks, cross-functional meetings, and events specific to your office culture.
Ensure employee well-being. “As firms move to a hybrid model, the challenges associated with family obligations, stress of balancing commitments, and the changes associated with our workday should not be underestimated,” Smith said. “Spending time to understand employee challenges, providing space to get accustomed to the new patterns of hybrid working, and creating an environment of learning together how to make it work can be important.”
How is your office preparing for a hybrid environment? Share in the comments.